Winning the biggest competition of the season in your own facility makes the championship even sweeter, as the Stanford Cardinal women’s water polo team discovered on Sunday when they defended their NCAA water polo title with their fourth win in five years with a 7-6 score over UCLA.
It marked the first time that a host school has won the women’s NCAA water polo title, though some men’s water polo teams have done it, including USC this past season. Amazingly, the team’s superstar, Maggie Steffens, did not score one point in the championship game, though she did make some attempts, especially a close one with 14 seconds left to play.
It was senior Kiley Neushul who will be remembered for her game-winning goal with 11 seconds remaining. It was a tactical error on UCLA’s part that allowed Neushul to make the goal with pressure only from the goalie, as the Bruins were hit with a penalty. The goal was Neushul’s fifth of the championships, one of the many reasons why she was named the tournament MVP.
“I’ve never had a good NCAA Tournament, ever,” Neushul said. “It’s nice that I finally got one.”
The NCAA title game had more riding on it than just a trophy for the women’s team. On the line was Stanford’s streak of 38 consecutive years of winning an NCAA championship in any sport, which would have ended if Stanford had lost to UCLA.
“We are very much in tune with that streak and the tradition and history of national championships,” said head coach John Tanner. “As far as winning as the host, the pressure this week as tough,” Tanner continued. “We didn’t talk about it much, but we knew it was there and that no one had ever done it. We wanted this for our fans.”
Congratulations to Stanford University’s women’s water polo team on winning the Swimming World Performance of the Week!